To a chorus of “why though?” we get into the first major reboot of the series. Five years after the critical flop of Spider-Man 3, Sony elected to take a do over than try and save the Raimi series. With Tobey Maguire in his late thirties and a lot of ill feeling around the mishandling of the third film of an acclaimed series, it was a reasonable response, although the staggering box office return and the good favour bought by the first two films made a lot of people a little nervous. Sam Raimi had a proven track record, and there was hope that the studio might have learned the lesson to take their hands off the reigns and let the creativity fly.
A cautious audience went to see Amazing Spider-Man, with new face Andrew Garfield and director Marc Webb. name jokes aside, Webb’s previous credentials included 500 Days of Summer and a host of pop-punk music videos, and Tom Holland was already 29 and trying to play a high school student. A cautious audience also left the cinema…
Not A Bad Film
I enjoyed watching Amazing Spider-Man, by 2012 that was not an easy feat because I’d already started to be incredibly critical of films and television. I had been looking forward to it ever since I learned that one of my favourite actors would be taking the role of one of my favourite Spidey villains, Rhys Ifans as Doctor Curt Connors, the Lizard. I was firmly on the “but why reboot it so soon?” bus but was willing to give it a fair shout.
I was not disappointed, visually stunning, packed with creative action with cunning uses of the abilities of both hero and villain, a protagonist differentiated from the Maguire Spider-Man, but still familiar in its way. This Peter Parker was cheeky, sarcastic, and had web shooters that he made himself instead of showing up as a skin infection on each wrist! Oh yeah, they slew that bugbear pretty hard, watching the montage of Peter discovering his abilities and developing the web shooters was a genuine pleasure to watch, because they not only seeded the idea early that the technology was already underway in Oscorp labs, but they showed him failing repeatedly and comedically.
As for other fixes from the previous trilogy, Emma Stone presented a love-interest that was interesting and useful! Rather than fawning uselessly just waiting for Peter to ask her out, getting kidnapped, or into trouble, Stone’s Gwen Stacy is the perfect accomplice, helped massively by the fact that she was dating Andrew Garfield at the time – I mean there’s just no competing with that level of on-screen chemistry. Their back and forth makes for a more believable and enjoyable watch than the awkward gooey-eyes of Maguire and Dunst, and a more capable love-interest is more interesting to watch, as she deals a hefty clout to the back of Connors’ scaly head with a trophy, distracting him at a key moment, and in a single blow out-doing every moment of Mary-Jane Watson.
But we didn’t come here for nitpicks and a super-powered romcom.
Not A Great Spider-Man
Andrew Garfield is a great actor handed a bad Peter Parker, while the sarcasm and wit is fun, there are too many problems. In the absence of a J. Jonah Jameson I’ll say it myself: “That Spider-Man is a menace!”
The Peter Parker we’re introduced to is a cool-kid, oh sure he has nerdy tendencies, and has a few awkward moments, but he’s too slick and sociable. For a reboot designed to pull us back from the edge we were on following Spider-Man 3, you’d have thought they’d know that a cool Spider-Man doesn’t work. For example, as he’s learning to use his powers around the school, he takes the opportunity to show-up local bully Flash Thompson on the basketball court, a scene that would have been perfect, cocksure, still not certain, a hint of sass, but when he charges through Flash and obliterates the hoop in a shower of glass. It’s at that moment that he goes from revelling in his new power, to succumbing to the temptations of power.
Oh, and also he travels with the ball. I don’t sports very well, but even I know you have to dribble.
The Spider-Man we’re introduced to is a violent and vengeful vigilante. Rather than the quick and violent outburst cut short by realising his own part in Uncle Ben’s death as in 2002, we get a rampage of taking down thugs, only when it suits his own vendetta against one particular criminal. There’s a feeling that had he not had a personal connection to Curt Connors, he’d have never gotten involved, where Raimi/Maguire’s Spidey felt determined to help people no matter what.
The turn-around scene, pulling a child from a car on fire dangling over the Hudson (I know rivers in New York*) showed the character capable of making the right choice, capable of choosing to save a life over going after his intended target, and there are enough of those moments to be found that made the first Amazing film watchable, often enjoyable, and made you miss a few of the flaws that Amazing Spider-Man 2 would shiny a big blue sparkly light on… but that’s next week.
Sitting somewhere in the top three biggest grievances held by comic book nerds is the notion that Peter Parker was in some way special. Introducing the backstory concerning his parents, the “hidden truth” of the Spider-Man, ruining the image of “Any Old New-Yorker” worse than the heavy handed Brooklyn accent. This is something that Enter the Spider-verse fought hard against, but still got a ways to go before we reach that one.
Nevertheless, given a little forgiveness I actually enjoyed how it would go on to tie-in with Doctor Connor’s work, using animal genetics introduced to human DNA as a form of medicine. I’m not sure what people failed to understand about the Lizard’s plan? He thought that by giving everyone the serum it would make them free from injury or many sicknesses, at the slight side effect of being a monstrous reptilian hybrid, and after years without an arm, the pressures laid on his neck to advance his research, and a mad-scientist style transformation, it’s little wonder he got a little blinkered.
I object to the amount of time and effort he put into making an animation fully detailing his plan and just leaving it there for anyone to find. How did he find the time in between creating a lizard cure-all? And why did he incorporate a study of computer animation in with obviously very advanced biological work. That’d almost be as dimwitted as leaving a camera with your name on it in the villain’s lair when your identity is your biggest weakness…
As a complete tangent on the subject of genetics, let us never forget the diminishing age of Aunt May, don’t know how she does it, but at this rate, the next Aunt May will be four, and the next Spidey could be in his fifties or something.
I say again that I enjoyed this film. It showed us a new take on a classic character that almost made the reboot justifiable, and no he wasn’t a perfect Spider-Man, far from it, neither was Tobey to start with. But it’s a story of personal growth, growth that we saw across the arc of the film (right up until the whole “not keeping a dead man’s promise” thing) and let us leave the cinema with tempered optimism.
We got the best Stan Lee cameo we may ever see, with only a couple of films left to know for sure. We got one of the best Spider-Man fights across four films, the attack on the high school in which we see him encase Curt Connors in webbing like he plans to liquidate and devour his insides. And let’s not forget that we saw, brought to life on screen, one of the most beloved villains in Spider-Man history.
What a shame the sequel ruined it. Spider-Manuary continues next week.
*I know that river, I don’t even know if it was the Hudson in that scene… was it… the other one?